The European Union may be abolishing the Operation Sophia – a military operation of the European Union with the aim of neutralising established refugee smuggling routes in the Mediterranean – to combat the transfer of people across the Mediterranean if Italy does not support it, as an unnamed sources close to the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini announced on Wednesday.
“Operation Sophia has always been a great example of European defence policy. It fought against the smuggling of people in the Mediterranean to the extent that it almost eliminated it, trained the Libyan coast guard and saved lives. Sophia has come to the Mediterranean, where Italy has dealt with the situation alone, and prompted the whole Europe to cooperate during this crisis. If Italy, which leads this mission and where its headquarters are, does not want to continue with the Operation Sophia, we are ready to cancel it,” the sources said.
Italian Minister of Interior, Matteo Salvini, previously told the Italian state television RAI that Italy is opposed to the rules of Operation Sophia, according to which all migrants are picked up at sea and are shipped exclusively to Italy. “Either the rules change or it’s after the mission,” Salvini said. On Tuesday, Germany announced it was withdrawing one of the task force’s three remaining ships, frigate Augsburg, thus casting more doubts about the future of the EU Mediterranean migrant task force.
This decision of the German government was mainly based on the reluctance of the Italian Government to continue to accept migrants rescued in the Mediterranean. The EU played down Germany’s decision, as a spokeswoman for the bloc’s diplomatic service, the EEAS, told the DPA news agency that Germany had not ruled out making other ships available for the Sophia Operation in the future. This position has also been confirmed by a German Defence Ministry spokesman.
The current mandate for Operation Sophia will end on 31 March, which is a date on which the European Union agreed, when they prolonged the operation in December. The mission was prolonged for three months instead of a year, as had been done before, because of Italy’s desire to change the mission’s regulations in order to avoid accepting migrants rescued in the central Mediterranean route. According to the mission’s website, Sophia currently has three ships provided by Italy, Spain and Germany as well as five airplanes or helicopters made available by Poland, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands.